How to build confidence and why it matters
I’m not much of a dancer . I have decent rhythm and am not overly clunky in my movement (I promise this is going somewhere), but I never felt totally comfortable “cutting a rug.” And my dance aversion was never an issue until I moved to New Orleans, a very dance-centric place.
Shortly after graduating college, I took a job with an organization called AmeriCorps, which is what landed me in Louisiana. There was a whole incoming group of us (it’s a yearlong program), mostly from out of state. So, we all became friends by default.
One of the group’s favorite things to do was go dancing. I mostly sat on the sidelines during these outings. However, one night, a friend pulled me out onto the dance floor. Quickly, she noticed my discomfort and said, “do you know the difference between a good dancer and a bad one?” I said, “no.” She responded “fear.”
Now, it might not read as profound as it felt in the moment, but it opened up a new world to me. Really, it wasn’t a lesson about dancing, it was a lesson about confidence. When we’re confident in our ability (warranted or not) things tend to go better.
Confidence isn’t only useful to get someone out on the dancefloor, either. Research shows confidence can help improve workplace performance, and scholastic performance. For those interacting with people directly, like salespeople, confidence can help them build stronger relationships and improve trust with prospects.
So, how does one go about building confidence? Below I share five tips to get you started.
We all know the phrase “practice makes perfect.” For confidence, the same is true. We tend to gain confidence in a certain task, or area, once we begin to master it. Meaning, the more experience we have with something the more confident we become in our ability.
Practice is a great way to build up experience while still in a somewhat controlled environment. Eventually, you’ll need to bring your skills out into the real-world to continue improving, but it’s not totally needed at the onset.
For example, if you’re in sales, you might consider doing role playing exercises with a trusted co-worker to get used to covering your different talking points. They could even throw in some common customer objections so you can start working on your objection handling skills, too.
If you’d prefer to practice totally on your own, you could try reciting your sales pitch in front of the mirror, or recording it. The method still allows you to practice articulating your ideas and also gives an opportunity to see exactly how a prospect experiences your pitch.
Asking for feedback can be intimidating. Afterall, we want to do a good job and probably have some pride in our work. So, the prospect of negative feedback can be a little worrisome. That said, it is needed in order for us to grow in our roles and also gain confidence.
Though we tend to think of criticism when talking about feedback, there’s another side to it too: positive feedback. Generally, when you ask someone to give pointers they’ll mention positives along with things you can improve. Having someone else validate your skills can really help your confidence.
Further, as you improve in the areas you aren’t as strong in, you’ll see progress, which can also help boost your confidence. Again, that’s not to say that it’s always easy to receive feedback, but it’s almost always a worthwhile endeavor to seek it out.
If you do decide to ask for feedback, find someone you trust and respect. Having a good relationship with the person can help you be less defensive and more willing to hear their thoughts, which is paramount to get the most out of what they share.
Try new things
As I mentioned in the intro, dancing was new to me. And I’d be lying if I said I discovered a totally new part of myself and went on to train intensely in dance after that experience.
That said, I did start being the type of person who’d bring other people out onto the dance floor and try to help them feel more comfortable, as my friend (or Confidence Yoda, as I like to refer to her as) did for me.
In my experience, most of what we fear is the unknown. The “what ifs” of life. What if I look silly? Or, what if I can’t do x thing? Just like my aversion to dancing, those hang ups really all come down to fear.
When you take something on that you thought you couldn’t, it gives you a certain level of confidence. It plants the idea, “if I can do this, what else can I do?” In fact, experts even suggest exposing yourself to things that cause some anxiety as a way to help build your confidence.
I’m not suggesting you have to go swim with sharks or anything, but consider some small things. If you have some worry about public speaking (many do) ask to lead part of your next team meeting. If you’re uncomfortable talking to strangers, ask to meet with someone from a different team for a chat. Both should be safe environments, but can give some exposure.
We all have traits we tie to our identity. Some of us see ourselves as outgoing, or shy. Others may define their personality based on work ethic, or something similar. No matter the story, it can be limiting.
There’s actually a term for it: self-fulfilling prophecy. The basic premise is the more often you tell yourself a certain story, the more likely it is to come true. For example, I tend to say I’m bad at math. Since that’s my belief, I don’t spend time on math, thus making it true.
However, if I let go of that self-perception, I might be able to improve my math skills. The only thing in my way is me. The same can happen with confidence. If you’re continually engaging in negative self-talk where you say you’re not confident, or some variation of that, the more likely it is to be true.
Though it’s easier said than done, the best thing you can do is let go of that idea. Consider trying some self-affirmation exercises. They can feel a little strange at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.
Don’t worry, they don’t need to be like those Al Franken SNL sketches, even simply listing out things you’re good at, or accomplishments you’ve had previously can suffice. It’s really about developing a habit of positive self-talk to propel you forward.
If you look at research on confidence, there’s typically a link between those who are happy and have high-self esteem (which is indicative of being confident). However, the murky bit is what’s driving what.
What I mean by that is when researchers look they find it’s very possible that those who have the highest self-esteem (most confident) tend to be happiest. There’s actually an entire book called The Happiness Advantage predicated on the idea that if you become happy, then performance will improve, and you’ll become more confident, not the other way around.
So, there’s evidence that embracing positivity is a great method to gain confidence. But, how do you go about doing that? First, you can update the language you use to frame your world.
Another way to increase your positivity is by surrounding yourself with optimistic people. Positivity (along with negativity) is contagious, so being exposed to it regularly helps. You might even consider signing up for something like Not All News is Bad, or Good News Network to add another layer of positivity to your day.
Staying the course
Confidence is a useful trait in so many aspects of life. Whether it be at work, or socially, being confident can improve your overall quality of life. Gaining confidence takes time, and commitment, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Be sure you’re staying active in your pursuit, and also staying open to the different paths that can lead you to gaining more confidence. Whether it’s seeking feedback, or letting loose on the dance floor, you should leave no stone unturned.
Once you take the first step, there’s no telling where you might go.
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